In my last column, I wrote about the importance of getting outside for mental and physical health reasons. I received many comments in agreement with the sentiment (though one allergy sufferer disagreed with me wholeheartedly).
This week I thought I’d let you in on our family’s little outdoor secret: the joys of geocaching. Imagine an activity that wraps up exercise, fresh air, and family-time all into one excellent adventure!
A quick visit to www.geocaching.com prompts you to “Join the anytime, anywhere, real-time adventure.” After signing up for a free account and downloading a free app, you will be shown the GPS coordinates for geocaches close to you.
The physical difficulty of each cache is always listed. Easy ones are likely on flat ground, not far from a path or road. We’ve driven within 8 feet of some easy caches, and then got out and searched for the location. Moderate or difficult caches are just that, some requiring a longer hike to reach them.
Basically, cachers like to put caches in places that they want people to visit: to learn something about the area, to see a beautiful vista, to experience a new activity. Even when you’re on vacation, geocaching is a great way to see an area. One strange but memorable experience was a geocaching graveyard tour in Prince Edward County that took us to the oldest graves in the area.
Basically, it’s a treasure hunt (with no digging). Instead of a map, you use a GPS. Your goal is to locate the cache. There is usually a hint to go along with the cache to help you hone in on the exact location, because GPS is typically off by several feet. Some are hung in trees, others placed in the nook of an old stump, others camouflaged in birch bark.
Some caches you can access year-round, and others are seasonal. In addition to wilderness caches there are urban ones for when you run out of bug-spray or don’t feel like traipsing through the bush.
Some caches get moved or destroyed and you won’t be able to find them, but for the most part, they are relatively easy to find, with a little persistence.
What you’re looking for depends on the person or family who set up the cache. Caches range from tiny micro ones to full on treasure chests. Micro-caches are no bigger than the lid of a lip balm container, and have a tiny rolled up paper in them for you to mark that you’ve found it. The reward is in having found these tiny hiding places, usually camouflaged to the environment. The next size up is usually an old film canister. Bigger, “treasure chests” are often old peanut butter containers, with a log book and a few trinkets. When you find one of these, if you want to take a treasure, you are expected to replace it with a ‘tradeable’ of your own (the idea being that the well of treasure will never run dry if everyone comes prepared with a couple ‘tradeables’).
Last weekend, we found a cache that had a Swiss army knife in it. This was hands down the best geocache treasure we have ever found. We replaced the knife with a carabineer.
I don’t want to get your hopes up about the ‘treasures’ you can find, because there are a lot of old plastic trinkets, marbles, coins, and dollar-store junk, but especially when you are the first to find a cache (or FTF in geocache lingo), there is usually something fun.
Which brings me to the acronyms you see in the log book, which can be a bit intimidating. Aside from FTF, we read a lot of TFTC, which we later decided meant “thanks for the cache” and we have now started using the term ourselves.
Other than deciphering some acronyms and following a GPS, no special skills are required to geocache, and it is a fun, low-cost family activity that gets parents and children off the couch and into the outdoors.
Next time you hear the kids say: “So what are we going to do today?” you might just want to introduce the family to the wonderful world of geocaching.